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Sunday newspaper rapped over inaccurate teacher sacking claims

IPSO_logo_newA Sunday newspaper which inaccurately claimed a teacher was sacked for allegedly threatening a pupil with a craft-knife has been rapped by the press watchdog.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation found Birmingham’s Sunday Mercury had misreported evidence presented at a tribunal at which Damieon Herry lost his claim for racial discrimination against Dudley Council.

IPSO found the Mercury had given the “significantly misleading impression” that the allegation Mr Herry had threatened a pupil with a knife had been true, and that this had resulted in his dismissal.

It upheld Mr Herry’s complaint against the paper under Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code, which covers accuracy.

In his complaint, Mr Herry said the newspaper’s reporting of the tribunal had “seriously damaged his reputation.”

He denied that he had lost his job or been suspended because he had allegedly threatened a pupil with a craft-knife.

Mr Herry explained that in February 2009, a pupil had claimed to have felt threatened by him during a session in which he had demonstrated how to use a craft-knife safely.

He provided the evidence that he had given to the employment tribunal in which he had said that he had been summoned to speak to the college’s vice principal on the grounds that he had “acted aggressively and threatening with a craft knife”, noting that the vice principal had told him to be “mindful” of his conduct.

Mr Herry said that he was suspended in January 2010 because of a separate allegation made by a coach driver and then reinstated in March 2010.

He was eventually dismissed in May 2015 for allegedly not handing in sick notes, for refusing to complete Disclosure and Barring Service checks, and for “trust and confidence” issues, all of which had allegedly amounted to gross misconduct.

He claimed the Mercury had deliberately published the craft-knife allegation in the knowledge that it was untrue, which amounted to harassment, and also expressed concern that the newspaper had not contacted him for comment before the article was published.

The Mercury said that the allegation that the complainant had threatened a pupil with a craft-knife had been documented in witness evidence, which the tribunal judge had shown its freelance reporter at the start of the hearing.

But it accepted that the evidence had not stated that the complainant had been sacked as a result of the allegation, and offered to publish a clarification on this point.

In its ruling, IPSO said the paper had misreported evidence presented at the tribunal, which had given the significantly misleading impression that the allegation that he had threatened a pupil with a knife had been true.

However while upholding the complaint under Clause 1, IPSO rejected complaints under Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Code.

The full adjudication can be read here.